Thousands of rural and provincial New Zealanders will now receive cutting-edge cancer diagnosis on their doorstep with the launch of the Southern Hemisphere’s first mobile digital PET-CT scanner.

Mobile Health Group and Mercy Radiology have partnered to develop and build the brand new scanner-on-wheels, which will travel up and down the motu delivering cutting-edge, digital, cancer diagnosis where needed.

“This is an absolute game-changer for patients living in provincial and rural Aotearoa New Zealand requiring state-of-the-art cancer diagnosis,” says Chief Executive of Mobile Health Group, Mark Eager.

“No longer will where you live dictate whether you can access a CT-PET scan.

“It will mean those living provincially will no longer face the disruption and cost of travel and days out of town to get to a major city for diagnosis, at a time when they are likely stressed and already facing ill health.”

The new $7 million mobile imaging unit, built in The Netherlands, will operate out of provincial and rural hospital car parks, improving accessibility and removing barriers to health equity, especially among Māori who experience higher rates of cancer diagnosis.

The public will be able to view the new unit at Parliament next Monday, in a free, all-day event showcasing 11 mobile health units which provide a variety of healthcare services up and down the motu.

“There has been a call to provide a mobile PET-CT service for several years to address the inequity of access to scans,” Eager says.

“While PET-CT imaging is becoming increasingly available in metropolitan areas, it is unlikely that a permanent fixed installation will be available outside of larger urban areas, so this is a fantastic solution.”

There are six permanent PET-CT scanners across the motu, located in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch. Although several other sites are planned, around half of the New Zealand population lives outside of these cities, making this new mobile imaging unit invaluable.

The mobile PET-CT unit will not only conduct traditional CT scans, but more advanced hybrid PET-CT scans (Positron Emission Tomography), with patients receiving a small amount of radiotracer to deliver highly sensitive imaging, allowing doctors to study specific areas of body.

“The advanced digital PET-CT scan produces superior images for a more accurate diagnosis and evaluation of disease, and is a major step up from old-style analog PET cameras,” says Mercy Radiology’s Medical Director, Dr Remy Lim.

“In another innovation, a PSMA PET-CT scan, used to identify the extent of prostate cancer, will be safely produced onboard the mobile unit.”

Eager says with Mercy Radiology already managing two PET-CT scanners in Auckland, they are highly experienced partners for this venture. Mercy Radiology will staff the mobile imaging unit, providing the digital imagery and quality diagnostic services, while Mobile Health will operate the vehicle and handle transportation and logistics.

This is the latest in a fleet of vehicles operated by Mobile Health Group providing health services up and down New Zealand, including the very popular mobile surgical unit providing low-risk, day-stay, elective surgery, and the mobile lithotripsy service for the treatment of kidney stones. Over the last 28 years, the organisation has treated more than 50,000 patients.

Mobile Health Group says it’s currently working with Te Whatu Ora to finalise contract details and establish which sites the mobile diagnostic bus will visit.

The mobile diagnostic unit will scan its first patients in Rotorua on Tuesday 14th May.